Why do young children love routines? Quite clearly they do – if you change their routine in any way it upsets them deeply – but what is it about routines that they find so comforting?
Young children work on emotions. They haven’t yet reached the stage of understanding the abstract, and so everything that they do is a response to an emotion: basic emotions that they can name such as happy, sad, angry, upset. Routines make young children feel safe and happy, they know what is coming next and having that knowledge is comforting to them. If you ask a young child what they are going to do today, most will probably give you the usual routine or sequence of their usual day. Young children become familiar with their routines very quickly, much quicker than you might imagine. One or two days on the same routine and the pattern is already beginning to be established.
Knowing where they are supposed to be, who is going to be there and what they are expected to do is very reassuring for young children. They respond more naturally if they are comfortable and feel they are able to relax in a setting with those around them who are familiar. Having significant adults around, the same people who care for them on a regular basis, is an essential part of any routine. Not only Parents, but Nannies, Teachers and even Drivers. Here in Dubai many households have domestic staff, so don’t forget these are also significant adults to young children.
A change in routine upsets the balance of a child’s day, not only emotionally but also physically. They respond to change in the only way they know how, feeling physically uncomfortable, and sometimes even quite ill. Once the comfort zone of routine has been removed, children can have a difficult time explaining how they feel. They may be very young and not have the vocabulary to express their discomfort, or even understand which emotion it is that they are feeling, and their only method of response is physical. Tears, tantrums, restlessness, sometimes even vomiting are all common ways that young children deal with change in routine. Once they can explain how they feel and start to discuss their anxiety, these physical symptoms tend to disappear.
Please remember that discussing something with your young child does not mean that they actually understand what you mean – particularly when discussing emotions. Children connect to experiences, and so if you are discussing something coming up that they have experienced before, such as a trip away or meeting a new friend, it’s a good idea to bring them back to that previous time and memory so that they can also connect to the feelings that they had at that time. If it’s something new, try and find an experience where they would have felt a similar feeling, and work through connecting to that.
Sensitively transitioning from one routine to another is possible if you have lots of preparation, understand that it is the emotion that will drive your child, and also have those around them that they are familiar with to support them – the ideal situation. Of course sometimes emergencies occur or there are changes due to unforeseen circumstances and so understanding how a change in routine affects your child will be key to helping them transition smoothly. You know your child best, so use that knowledge to guide the situation and ensure that they stay confident when working through transitions.
Vanessa L Temple
Coordinator: Foundation Years at Hartland International School
Read more about Hartland International School.